More than 30 survivors of torture from Ethiopia joined hundreds of their fellow countrymen and women and human rights activists in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, April 10 to applaud the passage of House Resolution 128 on Ethiopia. The Resolution condemns the torture and killing of unarmed protestors in Ethiopia by security forces, calls for the release of political prisoners and punishment for those responsible. The survivors were organized by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), which joined 11 other human rights and Ethiopia diaspora organizations pushing for passage of the Resolution.
House Resolution 128 was sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a long-time champion for human rights who has pressured Ethiopia to end torture and abusive treatment of its own people for over a decade. Smith said the Resolution also calls on Ethiopia to allow a U.N. Rapporteur full access to the county and calls on the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to “hold accountable individuals responsible for gross human rights violations” through targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Act.
“Every day at TASSC we meet survivors of torture from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Cameroon and other countries,” said Andrea Barron, TASSC’s Advocacy Program Manager. “More than 70 percent are from Ethiopia, whose brutal regime tortures and rapes them in ‘official prisons,’ military camps, secret prisons, even in detention centers located in major companies like Ethiopian Airlines. This has to stop. Passing House Resolution 128 is a first step.”
The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition is a non-profit in Washington DC that provides psychological and employment counseling, legal assistance on asylum and other services to over 300 survivors a year, mostly from Africa. Organized by TASSC’s Advocacy and Outreach Program, over 80 survivors visited congressional offices to express their support for HR 128.
“This is the happiest day of my life since I came to America in March, 2017,” said Yoseph, an Ethiopian torture survivor who requested that his real name not be used. “When I heard Chris Smith and Congressman Mike Coffman (from Colorado) and Karen Bass from California talk about what Ethiopia does to its people, I saw American officials acknowledge my own pain and the pain of other survivors.” Yoseph is afraid that Ethiopian security forces could harm his family if he reveals his true identity.
The Ethiopian government carried out a vigorous lobbying campaign to defeat HR 128, spearheaded by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who has close ties to the Ethiopian government. Organizers were worried that the resolution would be derailed at the last moment, but it passed unanimously by voice vote—the congressman expected to oppose it never showed up on the House floor.
Fekade Ancho, an Ethiopian torture survivor, said: “Watching this resolution pass gave me great confidence in the American people—I saw how much they believe in freedom, democracy, human rights and justice. I especially want to thank Congressmen Smith and Coffman for what they have done. And of course TASSC’s Advocacy Program, that made it possible for so many survivors from Ethiopia to visit Congress and tell our stories.”
Ancho was a lead accountant and union organizer in Ethiopian Airlines for 25 years. He was mentally and physically tortured inside his workplace because he protested against the decision by the company’s top management to fire thousands of employees who were not members of the ruling party. Ethiopia has been controlled by one political party made up of a tiny ethnic group since 1991.